By J.V. Mercanti
What better way to escape the Republican National Convention than a three-day retreat to Canyon Ranch spa in the heart of the beautiful Berkshire Mountains? Nestled among the trees of scenic Lenox, Massachusetts, “the Ranch,” as it is called, was a bustling haven for many New Yorkers during my brief but thoroughly relaxing time there. Here’s a play-by-play of my much-needed respite for those interested in taking a breather from the stresses of city life.
Security was tight but Penn Station was all but empty as I made my way to the Albany-bound, all-reserved coach train. Armed with a backpack full of CDs and books I thought I would pass the two-and-half-hour train ride reading. However, the ride along the Hudson River was so beautiful that I spent most of the trip looking at the scenery. I turned off my cell phone determined not to check my messages until the train pulled back into Penn Station. I was met at the Albany – Rensselaer Station by a Ranch shuttle van. John, my driver, presented me with a bottle of water and a brochure that detailed all the events available over the course of the week. As it was only John and I on the ride to the Ranch (approximately an hour), he was able to fill me in on fun activities and daily living in the area. I was determined to tackle the High Ropes course while I was here; as it so happened, his daughter was one of the instructors.
At check-in I was given a Ranch tote bag, a Ranch water bottle that could be refilled at any one of many fountains located throughout the grounds, and a t-shirt (no small sizes) with the slogan “The Power of Possibility” printed on the front. My first excursion before checking into my room was lunch. All meals at Canyon Ranch are included in the price of your package. You are allowed to order as much as you want. Meals are made entirely of organic ingredients with absolutely no artificial sweeteners or colorings. They have salt and pepper available, but not on the table. Over the course of three days I tried to vary my menu as much as possible. The veggie burger was excellent, perhaps the best I’ve ever encountered. Not overly dependent on mushrooms or red peppers for its taste, it had a near-perfect consistency and just the right amount of flavor without being overly spicy. The almond-encrusted mustard chicken was also a big hit. The chicken breast was cooked to perfection, unlike most places that end up overcooking and drying out the meat. Stay away from the pizza (whole wheat crust). The crust was doughy and had a slightly tangy aftertaste. Sweets were a big problem. I’m a huge fan of anything sweet. Their fruit desserts, however, were wonderful – apple cobblers, blueberry tarts, etc. However, any desire for anything in the cookie/cake/ice cream department was left unfulfilled. The closest one could get to junk food is their “chocolate fudge” sauce, which is akin to watered-down Hershey’s syrup.
The rooms at the Ranch leave a little to be desired. They meet the qualities of any three-star hotel. My friend and I stayed in a suite, having the pleasure of two separate bathrooms, each fully equipped with a bathtub and shower. The room comes with the standard TV, DVD player/VCR and stereo. You can rent movies in the lobby – no on-demand stuff. Although perfectly pleasant, I wanted the rooms to have a more personal touch and not be quite so antiseptic.
Activities! The first class I took was a Basic Yoga class. Always take a Basics class whenever you practice yoga in a new environment with a new instructor to become familiar with the style of the class. The studio had practically floor to ceiling windows that looked out into the woods, giving the impression that you were practicing outside for an hour and a half. The class was personal and interactive; the instructor (Lea) came around to make basic adjustments to poses one might often take for granted. After this class I felt the need to work off the rest of my inner-city aggression, so I made my way to the gym. Fully equipped with all state-of-the-art equipment, the Ranch gym has everything you could want: full sets of free weights, universals, and every cardio machine known to man. I chose a treadmill that faced the woods and ran three miles. That was enough physical activity for one day, so I hit the sauna and then took a shower. My second day I took a shot at Canyon Ranch Yoga, which is an advanced Vinyasa class. The movements were fast and the poses were challenging. At the end of the hour and a half I was drenched with sweat and mentally and physically exhausted, but I still had a feeling of accomplishment for pushing myself to the limits.
One of the simple joys of Canyon Ranch is that you are encouraged to wear your robe everywhere. It is permitted in all locations, including the dining room with the exception of dinner. The men’s locker room has shaving stations, showers, towels galore, a steam room, a sauna, a whirlpool, an inhalation room (think aromatherapy and steam), and a cold bath. It also has a lounge area with chaise chairs so that you can read before any spa/salon appointments.
I had two massages during my stay. Massages are not included in your rate – it’s $110 for a 50-minute massage. So make sure to speak up if you want a deeper, more intense massage to relieve tension and loosen knots. Don’t forget to drink a lot of water after getting a massage. I did not drink enough after my first massage, so I wasn’t able to flush out all the toxins that were released inside my body. The result? I felt sick and very tired but was unable to sleep that night due to aches and pains. Don’t make the same mistake!
The second massage was given by a middle-aged woman. When I walked into the room she told me that she was a “medium pressure masseur” but would go deeper if I requested. I told her there was no such thing as too deep for me and she began. No sooner had she started than all my preconceived notions of middle-aged women masseurs were blown out the window. She found all the right spots and would not stop until each knot was thoroughly dissipated. The 50 minutes went by way too quickly. Not making the same mistake as the previous night, I drank two full glasses of water immediately following the massage and felt wonderful for the rest of the night.
The last spa treatment I had was a full body exfoliating scrub. Grape seed scrubs are good for us males who are particularly hair. Because of the sensitive nature of my skin the specialist also shooed me away from the salt sea scrub. With a firm but gentle hand, she made her way over my body with grape seeds, exfoliating dead or damaged skin and exposing healthy, new skin below. By the time she was finished (both front and back), I smelled like a wonderful new bottle of Bordeaux. The scrub was followed by a power shower (a Swiss device with fifteen strategically placed forceful shower heads). When I exited and said, “I want to take that home,” she laughed and replied, “that’s what everyone says.” The shower was followed by a soothing body rub with lotion to re-hydrate the skin. She recommended that I not shower or sweat for the rest of the day so that the lotion had time to settle. This entire treatment was only $110 and 50 minutes long, a bargain by New York City standards.
The most exciting activity that I took part in was the previously mentioned High Ropes course. Consisting of eight different “courses” you find yourself some thirty-feet above the ground climbing up through and in-between majestic trees on a high wire with nothing but a helmet and a safety line to keep you safe. More of a mental challenge than anything else, you only need to have the strength it takes to climb a ladder to complete the course. Mentally, you need to steel your nerves and not be afraid to fall. The instructors are encouraging and patient. When I reached the sixth course, I was practically in tears, hugging a tree with my life, while vainly reaching for a rope that was seemingly intentionally placed just out of reach. The instructors talked me through it and wouldn’t let me quit. The final “course” is an amazingly exciting zip line down the Canyon that makes you realize why Harrison Ford enjoyed being both Han Solo and Indiana Jones. This activity was an additional $200 and worth it.
Canyon Ranch is the ultimate spa retreat. You can do as little or as much as you want. In addition to the activities I mentioned, they also have daily hikes of varying levels, indoor/outdoor pools, tarot card readings, cooking classes, lectures on fad diets, lectures on sleep apnea, etc. Two nights and three days there with the activities I detailed cost approximately $1000 – not too shabby for a physically, mentally and emotionally rejuvenating experience. The staff is friendly and helpful. The environment is unparalleled. The original Canyon Ranch location is in Arizona. More info can be found on their website www.CanyonRanch.com
When I came back to the city, I’ve never had so many friends tell me how healthy and well-rested I looked upon return from a vacation.